Looking Forward: Projects and Trends for 2014

‘Tis the season for everyone to publish their economic forecasts, and although we believe 2014 will build on the significant success of 2013 for our firm and our industry, true monetary predictions are best left to the economists. Instead, we rounded up our principals, associates, and project managers and asked them for brief insights on what we can expect in design, technology, planning, and real estate this year.

Here, now, we offer our observations and outlook for 2014.


  • More than ever, good design is playing a larger role in a traditional, financially-minded development deals. In the retail realm, retailers and mall owners are remaking their buildings in an effort to drive shoppers and capture new tenants and higher rents. The need to make retail relevant and attractive to potential shoppers only grows in the face of the growth of online megaretailers.
  • In an increasingly competitive apartment market featuring more and more building amenities, new buildings are augmented with increasingly high levels of building design in bids to capture consumer attention and market share. Striking façade treatments, unique floor plans, exterior lighting, and contemporary interiors are demanding more creative design solutions.

Technology in Design & Construction

  • BIM modeling has gained traction in most design studios, but the ease of 3D printing and computer aided fabrication continues to grow as materials vendors, craftspeople, and systems fabricators can utilize 3D shop drawings and models more efficiently than ever, often translating them directly into instructions for fabrication machinery. These shop-fabricated building components generate less waste, save time, and create fewer surprises in the field.
  • Designers and architects are also able to leverage technology BIM in new ways: tablet computing and mobile software have reached a point where our technical experts are able to bring a BIM model into the field for review, markup, and even analysis of existing conditions, conflicts, and punch lists. Software developed by the same publishers as the top-of-the-line drafting software make it easy to integrate these tools into the workflow as staff travel in and out of the office, collaborating on models and documents with consultants, contractors, and clients.
  • These days, the industry has essentially dubbed Digital the next utility we ubiquitously provide after electrical, water, and sewer services. And as such, it will be increasingly common to find new homes, multifamily residences, and offices wired not only for phone, cable, and perhaps centralized ethernet, but also higher-speed and more convenient alternatives like optical data transmission and wireless bands. As Google’s blazing-fast “Google Fiber” offerings continue to expand, forward-thinking planners and architects will ensure their neighborhoods and buildings are ready when the new data pipeline reaches their borders.
  • Environmental responsibility continues to permeate the industry’s design, specification, and construction practices, and three tools—the Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA), the Environmental Performance Declaration (EPD), and Health Product Declarations (HPD)—will make it easier than ever for designers and specifiers to know what is in the products we specify, what was used in the creation of those products, and the overall environmental responsibility of the manufacturers. This sort of awareness has been encouraged and rewarded in building certification systems such as LEED, but the latest initiatives strive to move us beyond researching a particular building’s sustainable ingredients and toward a comprehensive library for architects, as a component of their existing product catalogs, that would serve as complete environmental lineage of each material and product we specify.

Energy, Efficiency, and Code Compliance

  • We all realize that the 2012 IECC is last year’s story, but in 2014, FitzGerald teams will continue to encourage contractors and owners to revise their long-held conceptions for cost estimating based on the latest revisions to the International Energy Code. Specifically, the new code will require many projects to include different wall section details and higher-quality windows, for example, which will present a greater cost. When taken into account in advance, surprises will be minimized.
  • Due to new testing results, the R-Values of polyisocyanurate insulation have been devalued in 2014. The technical specifications can be viewed here, but what it means for developers and builders is that other materials may be a more cost-effective, energy efficient option. FitzGerald will continue to present our clients with a range of effective solutions as the building design allows.


  • In our “Trends for 2013” piece last year, we declared that 2013 was the year for a major Home Automation boom, and we were right. Affordable “smart home” products made it easy for us to manage our utility costs and better understand our homes. In 2014, this awareness will continue to build, and drive the next significant amenity demand ” “smarter” homes wired with sensors and data-rich control displays that can combine the convenience and market awareness of off-the-shelf products like the Nest thermostat and smoke detector with an even deeper level of data analysis and reporting ability for multi-unit buildings of all sizes.
  • In workplace design, employers are rebounding from the recession and looking for creative solutions that can increase employee productivity in light of downsizing the footprint of the average office worker to reduce real estate costs during the downturn.
  • On the hot-button topic of trendy products or materials for 2014, FitzGerald and our Interiors team rebukes the notion that a preselected group of vendors or designers might be able to influence what materials or products are most in-demand this year. Instead, FitzGerald’s experts will continue to provide cost-effective, elegant, appropriate solutions that integrate the latest technologies as it suits the project. We strive to realize our client’s vision and are always open to integrating an appealing new look, but we encourage our clients to remain equally open-minded as we work together to achieve a design that has the durability, longevity, and timelessness that their investment deserves.
  • Our profound and growing “maker culture” has fostered a desire in buyers, homeowners, and builders to utilize responsibly-sourced goods and materials from known manufacturers. In our own specifications, we’re finding more and more outstanding local and regional providers of furniture, for instance, and see our enthusiasm echoed by our clients and homeowners in the ability to support local, independent alternatives to mass-market distributors.


  • Capitalizing on growth last year, suburban transit-oriented development (TOD) will continue to flourish in 2014. As a sort of second phase to the larger-scale suburban “downtown” redevelopments of the last decade, the demand and success our clients are currently finding in their TOD offerings is demonstrating that buyers and renters continue to look to the suburbs for comfortable, convenient housing and that even well-established and nearly built-out municipalities are open to replanning certain infill blocks to revitalize an underutilized shopping corridor or attract a new segment of the rental/buyer market.
  • Developer commitment and investment continues to grow in Chicago’s neighborhoods for new infill projects. Increasingly, neighborhoods like West Town, Rogers Park, Humboldt Park, and Chinatown will get the nod as community groups enliven the debate and embrace a well thought out, collaborative development process in the spirit of enhancing their communities and bringing new homes, businesses, and opportunities to the neighborhood.